The Pope’s “Culture of Inclusion”: What does it have to do with Bharati?


“May the ‎Transcendent Light illumine your hearts, homes and communities, and may all ‎your celebrations deepen the sense of belonging to one another in your families ‎and neighborhoods, and so further harmony and happiness, peace and ‎prosperity.‎” Thus did the Pope bless the people of India when they celebrated “Deepavali” a short time ago, on 23rd October, 2014.

What a great thing to say! And, this, we heard from the great spiritual leader of Christianity!

The world has changed a great deal since Bharati’s times. And yet, in these hundred or more years, the world has not quite changed. While certain positive changes have occurred due to globalization, some negative consequences have also come into existence, bringing challenges to the situation of the world. In fact, the “old” problems – in spite of the persistent efforts of great religious leaders and social reformers – have been accentuated, and have taken on various forms on an enormous scale, wreaking havoc and causing disharmony.

At this time, it is necessary that these crucial social themes and messages be restated, so that the goal of a just and peaceful society can be achieved. Globalization has not achieved what should be its primary objective – that of uniting people – it has, rather, acted negatively, to induce widespread “materialism” and “consumerism” which in turn, have had a negative impact on humanity. As a result, “self-absorption,” the hunger for power, and, in general, an “indifferent” attitude towards other human beings have developed in societies around the world. What the great Catholic leader has said is absolutely true: this “indifference makes us slowly inured to the suffering of others and closed in on ourselves.”

Pope Francis created a new “theme” for the Deepavali day, and he called it, “a culture of inclusion.” “Inclusion” – meaning, to include others in your circle – other races,  religions, nationalities,  classes, and people of different economic and educational levels – not to exclude or alienate them. Creating a culture of inclusion in the global environment is a grand scheme, and the idea holds great importance.

On the other hand, the hoped-for results might or might not happen. Why not? There is dissatisfaction, greed, hatred, jealousy, and inequality – there are religious, caste, class, racial, and other differences – in the world, in almost all sectors of societies, leading to violence and cruelty all over the world.

The problems are severe, and have already started affecting the roots of  social structures; perhaps, there is clearly much more to do. A fundamental change of attitude among people everywhere will have to occur. Somebody will have to take charge of cleansing the debris, building new paths, and re-establishing our cherished values – the values that lead us towards these desired goals.

Early in the 8th century, Adi Shankaracharya organized Hinduism to include six religions which believed in the principles established by the Vedas. The disparities between these religions were eliminated and a clear goal was achieved. This was, perhaps, an essential step in the history of Hinduism, in order to establish and further develop a peaceful social environment. Shankara’s philosophy was Advaita – that, all beings are one and the same, and in unity with God – therefore, they are all equal. For Hinduism,  Advaita was a leading light. It set everything right in the human mind, and clarified all doubts concerning existence and the existence of God.

Bharati was a firm believer in Advaita philosophy. All his poetry was based on this principle. The culmination of this philosophical approach is the realization of oneself. As Bharati writes, “I am God”.

Bharati “included” all men and women of the world within one circle: on a global level  the patriots of India who suffered ill-treatment under the British rule, the women who drudged in the cane fields of Fiji, the Russians who suffered the cruelty of the Czar, the Belgians who confronted the consequences of World War I; he talked about supporting the freedom of women in China, he joined with Mazzini, the Italian patriot, in his vow to fulfil “the Order of God” in his country – in general, he was in fellowship with the human beings who suffered “exclusion,” poverty, and sickness.

His “inclusion” further extended to birds and inanimate objects:

Kakkai

 

 

 

 

“The Crow and the Sparrow are of our caste

The Sea and the Mountain are of our crowd

Whichever way we look, there is none other than ourselves

Looking again and again, oh dance of joy!”

— Poetry: Philosophy– “Jaya Berigai

Ella Uyir

 

 

 

“ ‘I exist in all lives’, said Kanna peruman (Krishna).” On the basis of this Truth,

Mannar

 

 

 

 

 

“All belong to one Class, one Race. We are all people of India, the Kings (rulers) of this country,” said Bharati to the Indians who were then enslaved under British rule. He declared, “if one person goes without food, we will destroy the whole world”.

—  Poetry – Nationalism: “Bharata Samudayam

Bharati, while fighting for India’s freedom from British rule, simultaneously worked towards  eradicating social problems such as religious and caste differences, superstitions, inequality between men and women, ignorance, and poverty.

Bharati’s Drum (Murasu) beats loud to celebrate success when the negative elements of Indian society were destroyed:

Murasu

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

—  Poetry – Nationalism: “Murasu

 

“They are fools who cultivate the flames of enmity

Insisting on the existence of several Gods

God is One, Which exists in all beings.”

“There should be no cruelties of caste . . .

The world will flourish only by love.”

“God blessed woman with wisdom

A few fools on earth destroyed their intellect.”

 

Bharati’s main theme was to free women who suffered inequality at the hands of men. In his times, women had no access to education, no freedom of speech or movement; they lived in darkness in a corner of the house, they followed and adhered to the qualities of “fear” (acham) and “shame” (naanam), which “foolish” men established as virtues for women.

Penn

 

 

 

 

 

– Poetry – Nationalism: “Pudumai Penn

 

Bharati’s “New Woman” (Pudumai Penn) declared that women would learn many new sciences (sastras); they would destroy all of the old rules and foolish ties that controlled them; they would travel all over the world and bring all that is new of their learning to India, and work to make their country great.

 

Let the Murasu beat, “all are equal” . . .  “all are one.”

Let the Murasu beat “destroy all Classes” . . .

Let the Murasu beat “Love” . . .

— Poetry  Nationalism: Murasu

“Let there be Light!” – said God.

“Tatsa vitur varenyam” – chanted the Veda mantra (Gayatri)

Gayatri

 

 

 

“Let us discern the Light of the Deva of red rays (The Sun)

Let him illuminate and guide our intellect”

— Translation in Tamil by Bharati of the Gayatri mantra

                                                                       (Panchali Sabatham: Canto 1, poem 153)

“May the ‎Transcendent Light illumine your hearts .. .” said the spiritual leader of Christianity.

Fire

 

 

 

— Poetry – Philosophy: “Agni Sthomam

 

“Agni, grows towards the sky to see Usha, the Dawn of wisdom.”

— Bharati: The poetry of the Vedic Rishis: interpretation of Agni

 

Mahatma and the Mahakavi

On this day, October the 2nd, we celebrate the birth anniversary of the Mahatma. This brings to us the memory of our past – the struggle we went through, the miseries we tolerated – for more than a century under British rule. The memory is impossible to bear when we think of the enormous suffering of our leaders – physically, mentally and morally – individuals who sacrificed their lives to set us free from slavery and ill- treatment. Today, we can perhaps console ourselves with the thought that their struggle and sacrifice were worth it, as it succeeded in opening up a new future for the present and future generations, enriching our lives and making India one among the Nations of the world. Was it not the same goal that our ancestors had striven for and accomplished in our glorious past?

In their human characteristics, the Mahatma and the Mahakavi were astonishingly similar. Determination and perseverance in the pursuit of accomplishing their goals – imagination, creativity, and clarity of mind – truth and loving-kindness – were the striking qualities of these two extra-ordinary personalities. As true patriots, their Vision of the country, their ability to foresee its future, and their optimistic view of human life were alike. Both visualized India as the Mother Shakti and Her people as the children of God. Both were devout Hindus and whose faith in God was unshakeable. Their perception of creation, life, and humanity were based on the Advaitic principles, that all beings are the forms of God and, therefore, equal. Their treatment of Harijans and their rejection of caste prejudice were based on this Advaitic ideal.

Neither Bharati the Mahakavi, one of the greatest poets in the world, nor Gandhi the Mahatma, the great soul and peerless leader, was awarded the prestigious Nobel Prize.

What could be the reasons for this oversight? Perhaps in those days, Bharati as a Tamil poet, was unrecognized by the world; perhaps the world did not know either the language of his poetry or India’s greatness at the time that she was still a subject nation. With few exceptions, Bharati’s poems were not translated into English or other European languages.

On the other hand, a poet like Bharati, Rabindranath Tagore, the poet of Bengal, did gain the world’s recognition and was awarded the Nobel prize for literature in the year 1913. Tagore was well-known, not only in India, but also abroad. He had written a substantial volume of poetry, translated into English with the help of a powerful friend, W.B. Yeats. He traveled across continents on lecture tours, and, in fact, Bharati wrote about, and celebrated, Tagore’s remarkable trip to Japan.

Tagore lived a long life of 80 years; Bharati died when he was 39. Tagore was wealthy; Bharati lived in poverty for most of his life. While Bharati was totally involved in the Indian National Movement and lived all his life fighting for India’s freedom, Tagore, although he participated in the National Struggle, was largely involved in writing and traveling around the world, spreading India’s great culture.

The Mahatma had been nominated for the Nobel prize several times. In 1948, following his death, the Nobel Committee declined the award to the Mahatma on the ground that “there was no suitable living candidate that year.” Later, when the Committee awarded the Peace Prize in 1989 to the Dalai Lama, the members of the Committee expressed their regret for the omission of the Mahatma, and the Chairman said that the award was “in part a tribute to the memory of Mahatma Gandhi.”

Bharati and the Mahatma met once; it was an exceptional and memorable incident. Gandhiji visited Chennai and stayed in Rajaji’s house to discuss the Rowlett Committee’s Report. The Mahatma thought that the Report was not acceptable to any human being who had any self-respect. He wanted to take action against the Report, and sought to organise a nation-wide satyagraha (passive resistance) to oppose it.

The Meeting of the two is described by Va. Ra., (a disciple of Sri Aurobindo and Bharati) who was present when it happened:

[The] Mahatma was surrounded by a group of people . . . In this group, the elite personalities of Madras were present, such as Adi Narayana Chettiyar, Rangasamy Iyengar, Satyamurti, Rajaji, and Va. Ramasamy Iyengar.

Bharati came to Rajaji’s house to see the Mahatma. As soon as he entered, he went straight to Gandhiji where he was conducting the meeting. He asked him if he would be able to preside over a meeting at the Marina beach, where he was giving a lecture. Gandhiji turned around and consulted with his secretary Mahadev Desai as to the details of his program for that evening. It turned out that he was not free that evening, and he asked Bharati if he could postpone the meeting for another day. Bharati said that this would not be possible. He then “blessed” Gandhiji’s new Movement, and left the group.

Mahatma asked the group who the man was, and Rajaji answered, “He is a Tamil national poet.” Gandhiji remarked, “You should take good care of this man.”

Obviously, upon Bharati’s appearance, and witnessing his majestic behaviour, the Mahatma was immediately able to recognize the value of the Mahakavi and he was clearly concerned that it was important that he should be “taken care of.”

Why was Bharati not properly introduced to the Mahatma? The incident happened so quickly, and perhaps, there was not enough time. There was no other reason why Bharati should not have been introduced to the National leader.

For, Bharati was more than qualified to meet the Mahatma. First of all, he was a true Nationalist. He had attended the nationally organized Congress meetings in the North. All his life, he was a journalist and the editor of nationalist newspapers and magazines. Indeed, he was the first person to introduce “nationalism” to the people of Tamil Nadu. He had worked hard towards educating the people of the Tamil Land about the greatness of their own country and its age-long culture. He had taught them the value of freedom, and how it was important to live a life of dignity as an equal with all other human beings.

Why, then, was Bharati not included in the efforts of the Mahatma towards achieving their great, and shared, goal?

I am not seeking to awaken the old grievances at this time, after so many years. But, I think that Bharati’s intelligence and acuity in making political decisions could have helped the Mahatma, perhaps a great deal, if the “important” people would have given him the opportunity to meet the great leader.

The Mahatma’s insight, both spiritual and political, was true, in that Bharati was not exactly well taken care of in those days. It was not that people of his times did not recognize his value. On the contrary, India’s first Governor General Sri. C. Rajagopalachari was his friend; he had visited him at his house a couple of times, and enjoyed Bharati and Chellamma’s hospitality. He had read Bharati’s poetry, and commented on the man and his work in newspapers. Co-nationalists such as Sri Aurobindo, the great spiritualist and writer – V.V. Chidambaram Pillai, the Kappalottiya Tamizhan who launched a Swadeshi Steam Navigation Company against the British – G. Subramania Iyer, the founder and editor of the “Hindu” in Tamilnadu – V. Krishnasamy Iyer, a staunch Nationalist and leader of the “Moderate” party in Tamilnadu (Bharati belonged to the “extremist” party), and other patriots such as Subramania Siva, Surendranath Arya – all these individuals sought Bharati’s opinions and ideas on national matters. A few of the great leaders of the North, including his political Guru Bal Gangadhar Tilak – respected him. As a Nationalist and a poet, the Tamil-speaking public respected him enormously and loved his poetry and writings.

But, in spite of this wide recognition – why was he not in the front row along with the Mahatma and his circle?

As two Nationalists working towards one goal, there may have been a few natural differences between them in their approaches to unity and their methods of fighting the British. Indeed, Bharati was not always positive about the Mahatma’s methods in the Struggle. Some of the issues – such as voluntary submission, or the sacrifice of human lives at gunpoint and in the face of violence were difficult for him to accept. I am sure, that these methods were also difficult to accept for the Mahatma. But, in any case, these incidents happened in the history of the Freedom Movement. As a humanitarian, Bharati was anxious to avoid the loss of innocent lives. And Bharati examined and critiqued certain ideas of the Mahatma, including his approach to social issues such as widow re-marriage – Bharati elaborates on this in his own writing, providing statistical data to support his points.

At the same time, Bharati realized that, when a large scale “non-cooperation” movement is involved, mistakes can occur. As a result, the loss of human life was a possibility. Bharati was clear in his mind that Mahatma’s political scheme of satyagraha was an effective tool to use in this struggle; indeed, he came to believe that this was the only method that could be successful for the achievement of freedom for India. Applying this method carefully, it might be possible to protect human life and still be successful.

Bharati, sings of the glory of the Mahatma, who came to revive the down- trodden people of India who suffered under British rule. In his poem saluting the Mahatma, Mahatma Gandhi Panchagam (5 stanzas), Bharati compares him with the historical heroes of the Hindu scriptures: from the Ramayana War, Hanuman, who brought a medicinal herb from the Sanjivi mountains to alleviate the effects of the nagapasa and save the life of Lakshmana, the brother of Rama; and in the Bhagavatam, Krishna, who shielded the lives of people and cattle with the Govardhan giri (mountain), from lightning and thunder caused by the fury of Indra.

Bharati pays homage to Gandhi for creating a powerful strategy which was New and Simple, to treat the debilitating and cruel “disease” of foreign rule. He praises the Mahatma for introducing the basic principles of Advaita – the revelations of the Hindu thought that all beings are embodiments of God and, therefore, equal – into politics, which is filled with war, killing, and cruelty.

Bharati quotes Tagore in his poem Bharata Mata Navaratna Malai, “The Mahatma is the leader of the men of the world and he is the embodiment of dharma.”

He assured the people of India that they should follow the path shown by the Mahatma and be successful. He declared freedom and invited people to celebrate the victory: “Let us blow the conch to celebrate our success!”